Preparing for arrival
Information to help you prepare and welcome your Ukrainian guest(s).
Firstly, thank you for opening your home to a person or family from Ukraine in need of help.
Since the outbreak of the war on 24 February 2022, more than 3.7 million Ukrainians have been forced to flee their country, of which 2 million have found shelter in Poland. Some of those Polish families offering refuge have shared their hints, tips and lessons learned. We are passing these on in case they may be of use, as you’re preparing to welcome your Ukrainian guests.
The guests you are inviting into your home will likely have been through a lot. They may be traumatised by their ordeal and may still have family members in Ukraine, fighting in the Ukrainian forces, injured, or even killed.
They are in a strange country and may feel uncomfortable because they are imposing themselves on you. Your tact, patience, and empathy will be vital, and it will be the little things that matter most.
- Accommodation - Most Ukrainians will have come from warm homes with many of the same comforts we are used to, so please ensure the accommodation you are offering is warm, with natural light, sufficient space, child proof (where appropriate), and allows them privacy. If your guest is elderly, with mobility issues, then ideally they may prefer to be on the ground floor, providing they can easily get to a toilet and washroom.
- Essential information - Write down all essential information that your guests might need – your name and phone number, full address of the accommodation, Wi-Fi password, any door code, contact numbers to local organisations that are helping Ukrainian refugees etc, and leave it in a clearly visible place in the room. Tunbridge Wells Borough Council will also give each guest a welcome pack with helpful information.
- Washing detergent & water - Prepare fresh bed linen and towels, preferably washed in a hypoallergenic detergent – especially if you’re hosting families with young children. Some people from Eastern Europe can experience a mild skin reaction to British tap water immediately after arrival, so bottles of mineral water may well be really appreciated.
- Personal care items - Other useful items to leave in their room are personal care items, such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, comb/hairbrush, hypoallergenic body wash, face moisturiser, and hand cream.
Depending on who you are welcoming into your home, other items might include nappies, sanitary protection, nursing pads, hair ties, baby care products, shaving items, a sewing kit and basic medicines like painkillers and anti-diarrhoea tablets. Many of these items are personal, and your guests may be too embarrassed to ask for them.
- Clothing - Once your guests have arrived, then you can think about items such as underwear, a few changes of clothing. If you cannot provide these yourself, you can ask at any local donation collection point. Check the latest information on our website. Other homely and welcoming touches include slippers for your guests, and curtains on their windows for privacy.
- Ukrainian cuisine & groceries - Ukrainian cuisine is vastly different from British cooking, and some foods (for example bread) might even cause your guests some discomfort.
Your closest Eastern European or Polish grocery store will have the essentials to help those you’re hosting feel more at home, including sourdough bread, cold meats, sour cream, Polish-style sausages, honey, curd cheese, eggs, and plain flour. Some large supermarkets also stock Eastern European products.
- Privacy & space - Don't forget to remove everything you’ll need to use from the room where your guests will be staying. It’s very important to give them privacy and a space just for themselves.
- Emotional support - Keep in mind your guests may be feeling stressed and anxious about being in a strange home in a strange country, while also deeply worried about other family members and friends, who either haven't been able to leave Ukraine or who are refugees elsewhere. As a result, they may experience mood swings, being withdrawn or overly chatty, shy, scared, nervous and emotional, grateful for every small gesture of kindness or not engaging at all.
Give your guests space and let them come to terms with their new circumstances in their own time. Offer help, but don't push, and they will start opening up when they’re ready. If you’re hosting a family with small children, maybe offer to babysit so the mother can have a moment to rest, collect her thoughts or time for reflection.
- History & traditions - As part of your preparation for welcoming your guests, do read up on some Ukrainian history and traditions, there are excellent books by a Kyiv-based publishing house available to download for free (but you can donate to help their business). They have a Facebook post with some background.
Talk to other household members and share your knowledge with each other, and let your neighbours know you will be hosting people from Ukraine. They are a proud, passionate and resilient people who value family ties above all else and don’t beat around the bush, which is sometimes interpreted as rudeness by the more reserved Brits. But kindness and concern are a universal language, alongside patience and space.
- Language apps & translation - A good tip is to install a voice translator app, Ukrainian language pack and keyboard on your phone. It’s likely that most Ukrainians coming to the UK will speak English to at least some degree, but their older family members might only speak Ukrainian and Russian. Some might not know how to use a smartphone either.
If you can familiarise yourself with Cyrillic, that will make communication so much easier but please don't think you have to be fluent or even hold a conversation. A couple of greetings, please, thank you, and welcome in Ukrainian will speak volumes. If you’re feeling motivated, you can start learning Ukrainian from scratch e.g. on Duolingo (all the advertisement revenue from people learning Ukrainian on the app will be donated to Ukraine relief).
- Offering your home - Remember, your guests will also want to feel they are choosing to come and live with you, so do let them ask any questions they may have before they finally decide to come to you. Exchange as much useful information as possible before extending your offer, and don’t be discouraged if they keep asking for more details, photos or even personal references. They aren't being choosy, just ensuring they are emotionally safe and can relax after the trauma of losing everything and fleeing to a strange country.
- Commitment - Hosting a guest(s) in your home is a big commitment, and a sacrifice. It will require time, patience, compassion, organisation, determination, creativity, your own initiative and, inevitably, money. These people will be relying on you to make them feel safe and cared for. You are also indirectly inviting the war into your own private space - so expect for it to be a transformative experience that leaves a huge emotional mark. But remember, your help and patience will be invaluable, and you may well make new friends who want to show you equal kindness once they are over the worst of their experiences.
Mental health awareness training for anyone supporting Ukrainian refugees
Mind West Kent are offering 10 free mental health awareness workshops for anyone supporting Ukrainian refugees in the Sevenoaks, Tonbridge & Malling and Tunbridge Wells districts. This includes hosts, sponsors, those who volunteer or work for public sector or voluntary organisations involved in the support effort, and community representatives from churches, schools and social activity clubs/groups.
The free workshops will be run online and also at venues in Tunbridge Wells, Sevenoaks and Tonbridge between 24 May – 8 July.